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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Visit With State Senator Patrick Colbeck - by Tim Beck


     I had the opportunity last week to commiserate with Republican State Senator Patrick Colbeck at a GOP/libertarian dinner meeting at the “Huron River Hunting and Fishing Club” in Oakland County.

     Senator Colbeck, a former aerospace engineer, is said to be a rock ribbed “Tea Party” conservative, whose pet hatred appears to be taxes. In addition, he doesn’t seem to like cannabis either. That is a real problem for medical patients and canna business owners who would like to have statewide safe access to dispensaries. His perspective does not bode well for leaders of groups like MI Legalize, who would like to see legalization of cannabis on the ballot in 2016.


     Senator Colbeck is a very important player in Lansing. He sits on the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee. This committee holds the fate of any and all proposals for safe access to medical cannabis patients via dispensaries, under its sole purview.

     The medical cannabis community has struggled for over four years for safe access in the State Legislature, and has been blocked by the Michigan Senate at every turn. The first time was in 2014 where after two years of negotiation, a very reasonable bill passed the House; but it was killed in the Senate by Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard and his law enforcement cronies.

     In the next attempt, canna business lobbyists bent over backwards to appease law enforcement with a different, more restrictive dispensary model. It seems they succeeded  to some extent and arch conservative former Eaton County Sheriff Rick Jones, Senate Judiciary Chairman, got on board with the new model.

     Again, it was all to no avail. Senator Jones was unable to persuade a majority of his five person committee to vote the bill to the Senate floor, after hearings were conducted in December. Three Senators stood in his way: west Michigan Republican Tonya Schuitmaker, Sterling Heights Republican Tory Rocca and Colbeck from Canton.

     Schuitmaker (my State Senator) has said from day one that until the FDA approves medical marijuana, she will never vote to support it in any form. Rocca, whose family dynasty has been big in Macomb County Republican politics for years,(and wants to keep it that way) has been no mystery either. He has repeatedly expressed his distaste for medical cannabis, implying it to be a hoax.  He asked a top tier lobbyist friend of mine sometime ago why they even bother coming back around and pestering him about the subject. Colbeck however, was never so explicit on the matter--- until he cleared up the mystery last week.

     He told me this legislation “will get out of committee over my dead body” He said in principle he opposes all new tax increases, including taxes on marijuana. In addition, I got the strong impression from his body language, he hates cannabis in any form. The Senator went on to explain that “only a discharge motion” approved by Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekoff will ever get the bill  to the floor for a vote, and he flatly predicted this would not happen.

     Later on, during a public Q & A session with the audience after dinner, I asked the Senator about the recent vote on SB776, which would limit signature gathering on ballot initiatives to 180 days, no exceptions. I was especially curious as to how he thought the House might vote, and whether or not the bill will be given immediate effect.

     Again, the Senator’s answer was very clear:

     “180 days should be 180 days, that is the intent.” He  went on to suggest the House was a bit more weak kneed  then the Senate, because they are up for reelection this year. Nonetheless, he predicted it is likely they will eventually follow the Senate lead on the matter.

     Finally, in a cryptic statement, he declared “no agency or bureaucracy” is going to dictate public policy on such an issue. That is the prerogative of the Legislature.


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